Healthcare facilities can generate up to 25 pounds of waste per day per patient; however, that waste represents an environmental footprint much larger than just the cost and impact of disposing of the materials. We’ve recently interviewed Leanne Flynn of Gosford Private Hospital with the help of CEO Matt Kelly on how they practice sustainability and how hopefully, their initiative inspires for everyone to take that change for our environment.
Gosford Private Hospital (GPH) has been recycling enthusiastically for many years. Like others we recognise the huge amount of waste that our industry generates. It wasn’t until late 2018, when we realised that our co-mingle recycling bin was going straight to land fill because of ‘contaminants’ that we decided to get more involved to see what was actually happening. From there, we have really been flooded with strategies to reduce our ecological impact.
Initially, the implementation of our sustainability efforts focused on our Operating Theatres, where me and some other ‘Sustainability Champions’ identified some clear areas for reducing waste, improving our practices and improving the recycling of our many single-use materials. One of the things that has been so exciting about working with sustainability at GPH however is that a lot of the work has now grown and is being driven by staff throughout the organisation. Our Executive has also been extremely supportive in following through with initiatives that arise out of our practice, ensuring they are rolled out throughout the hospital. What we have achieved in the last year really demonstrates what can be accomplished if ideas are encouraged and staff are given the opportunities. We have our hospital executives, especially CEO Matt Kelly, to thank for encouraging our enthusiasm.
Personally, I got involved out of frustration. Once I realised that – although we had the different waste streams in place – it was all ending up in landfill, we started asking questions. In Australia the healthcare industry contributes approximately 7% of total CO2 emissions, and I think we can do better.
Everyone knows that China stopped accepting plastic in 2017. But why does that mean we haven’t found solutions in Australia yet?
When I coupled an awareness of our emissions footprint with the knowledge that globally healthcare is 10% of the GDP, I put it together and for the first time understood that this kind of economic clout gives our industry power to really change things in a meaningful way. You realise that what we do in healthcare does impact on climate change and we do have the capability to do something about it.
Trying to find our way in a wider council and corporate system that doesn’t always make sense. At the moment, the licensing and legislation around waste disposal for the medical industry does not meet what anyone would consider to be best practice standards. Currently, a good hospital standard aims to recycle around 25% of waste, with some hospitals only managing to recycle 2%. Even some waste which is accepted to be ‘recycled’ just goes to landfill. Our biggest challenge so far has simply been accurately tracking our waste and mapping out what currently happens and how to improve it.
The World Health Organisation estimates that 85% of health industry waste is general and non-hazardous but unfortunately it is still refused as ‘contaminated’ and ‘medical waste’ by our local recyclers. Frustratingly, the requirements to have our waste accepted and processed locally changes on a sometimes–weekly basis. For other waste streams, there are no viable disposal methods locally. This means we have to look further afield which adds to the disposal cost and increases the environmental impact.
We need to be creating local waste management solutions. This is the next big challenge: working with waste companies and local government to transform the current system into something accessible, cost-effective, transparent and productive.
We received over 160,000 social media views posting a photo of our plastics in a skipbin on Gosford Private Hospital’s Facebook page. Matt Kelly, our CEO, then posted it to his LinkedIn account where it got even more attention. That in itself – the collection of plastics or even a comparatively viral post – is not the biggest win. The win is the conversations we are now having as a result of that post. This public interest and support for sustainable practice opens dialogue with the community, with nurses and other healthcare providers, suppliers and reps from companies developing sustainable products. We are now discussing sustainability with healthcare providers throughout Australia and have even engaged with hospitals and health professionals overseas – a common cause and issue that we are very happy to support.
Our biggest motivation is the desire to provide the delivery of best patient care. When we realised the impact the climate crisis has on our health and environment and how much health care contributes, we realised we didn’t have a choice – sustainability is our responsibility.
Gosford Private Hospital is currently drafting a sustainability plan which aims to track and systematise the rush of initiatives that is currently occurring. By introducing an effective policy that prioritises an informed and consistent sustainability approach, we will maintain excellent outcomes for patients while pushing for better social and environmental achievements. The idea is that the plan focuses and empowers our staff to become leaders in thoughtful, sustainable healthcare.
It is easy to limit the way we think about sustainability, and I think that one of the key focus areas for GPH coming up is in procurement. We are starting to look more closely at what we purchase and where it comes from; how it is packaged and how to measure the sustainability impact. Now, we need more cohesion across the industry to be able to accurately assess the total lifecycle impact of the various products we need.
I think the main message is that sustainability is a collaborative effort from our whole industry. We don’t need to solve everything straight away, but we do need to make a start. At Gosford Private we’ve taken a series of small steps and made simple changes across all areas of our hospital, now we have momentum and our sustainability initiatives have taken on a life of their own.
As a community we need to work together to really make change, to take advantage of the power we have collectively. Networking, information sharing, raising a collective voice to ask for changes in product availability and waste disposal. Many hands and many voices, coming together, will start to make the difference that we need to make.
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